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The Birds of Greenbelt

by Jamie Jorgensen

Greenbelt Online invited Jamie, (co-founder of Greenbelt Biota) to list for readers the most common birds seen in Greenbelt, plus where and when they can be seen. To further aid beginning and intermediate birders he recommends these resources: the Merlin app for bird ID and Cornell’s eBird for creating lists of birds and exploring what other borders have seen). Getting out with other birders is probably the best way to learn birding, but that’s complicated right now by COVID.

In our Yards

Clockwise from upper left: Robin, Dove, Bluejay, Cardinal


Step outside your home and the birds you are mostly likely to see are probably already familiar: American Robin with its red breast, Mourning Dove with its soft coo, Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal (look for bright red males and olive colored females), and Common Grackle.

From left: Starling, Grackle, House Sparrows.


Also very common are the non-native House Sparrow and Starling, which are both quite attractive.


Clockwise from upper left: Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker.

In the trees in your neighborhood you might also look for woodpeckers. Downy and Hairy Woodpecker are common. Keep an eye open for the Northern Flicker.

In the WINTER months we have Yellow Bellied Sapsuckers with us, but evidence of them can be found year round. Look for lines of holes pecked into the trunks of trees. Largest and most stunning of the woodpeckers you’ll see in Greenbelt is the Pileated Woodpecker.  Here’s a video by John Klinovsky of a Pileated Woodpecker feeding its young near Greenbelt Lake.


From left: Ravens, American Crow, Fish Crow.

Throughout Greenbelt and surrounding woods and fields one can find crows. These come in two species, American Crow and Fish Crow. They are very hard to tell apart by sight. Instead, listen for the call. The Fish Crow is much more nasal sounding than the American Crow, which has a clear throaty “caw.” Seen in Greenbelt increasingly in recent years are Ravens. It is easy to confuse Crows and Ravens. Ravens are larger, but size is difficult to judge if they are not side-by-side. In overhead flight look at the tail. Crows have a fan-shaped tail, while Ravens have a wedge-shaped one. Also listen for the croaking call of the Raven.

Birds of Prey

Clockwise from upper left: Red Shouldered Hawk, Coopers Hawk, Sharp Shinned Hawk, Red Tailed Hawk, Bald Eagle.


Birds of prey that you might see in Greenbelt include the Coopers Hawk and Sharp-Shinned Hawk, which you might see darting between clumps of trees in your neighborhood. Soaring above, or perched in trees look for Red Shouldered Hawks and Red Tailed Hawks. A visit to the eagles’ nest on BARC (where Research Road crosses Beaver Dam Creek) during their nesting season (November through early summer) will give you a view of Bald Eagles, but you might also see them soaring high above any part of Greenbelt.

At the Lake

Clockwise from upper left: Great Egret, Green Heron, Double Crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron.

A visit to Greenbelt Lake, nearby Lake Artemesia, or various smaller ponds in the area will let you see a whole other cast of bird characters. Look for Great Blue Heron, Great Egret (with all white plumage), and the smaller Green HeronDouble Crested Cormorants, with their long snake-like necks, can also be seen on the water.

Clockwise from upper left: Wood Duck, Mallard, Hooded Merganser, Ring Necked Duck.

WINTER is a better time for duck viewing than summer. In the summer you are likely only to see Mallards and perhaps Wood Duck. In the winter look for Ring-Necked Duck (though you aren’t likely to see the inconspicuous ring around their neck), Hooded Merganser, and Ruddy Duck. There are many other duck species that may pay us a visit during the winter.

From left: Ring-Billed Gull, Canadian Geese, Ruddy Duck.

Winter is also the time of year when Ring Billed Gulls hang out on the waters of our lakes and ponds. Of course you may also see Canada Geese on the water by the dozens or hundreds.

Birds to Listen For

From left: Barred Owl, Carolina Wren, White Throated Sparrow.

Many birds are easier to find by ear, so it is worth learning some of their songs. Barred Owls can often be heard in or around Greenbelt with their “Who cooks for you?” call. (Listen here.) Carolina Wren are some of the calls I hear most around my home. (Listen here.)  In winter listen for the sweet sad call of the White Throated Sparrow. (Listen here.)

There are many, many bird species common to Greenbelt that I haven’t mentioned. Spring and fall migrations bring an even greater diversity of bird life through the area.

Photo credits: Yellow-bellied sapsucker. Fish crow.. Sharp-shinned hawk. Green heron.  Ruddy Duck. All others: Pixabay.com.

  1. Susan Cahill
    | Reply

    Feb. 13 — if anyone’s interested in Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers, a male was just seen in the woods behind the houses at the corner of Hillside Rd. and Woodland Way. He was one of the bigger, nicer ones I’ve seen. This area is community property, so it’s OK to walk back there.

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